Searles, McDonagh speak out on challenges, perks

Trumbull's Dan Searles (above) and St. Joseph's Dan McDonagh have been athletic trainers in town for a combined 34 years.

Trumbull’s Dan Searles (above) and St. Joseph’s Dan McDonagh have been athletic trainers in town for a combined 34 years.

Trumbull Athletics / Contributed photo

Dan Searles at Trumbull and Dan McDonagh at St. Joseph have been high school athletic trainers for a combined 34 years. Over that time span, they each cherish the bond created with the athletes they treat.

“I love the students and coaches,” said Searles, who started at Trumbull in the 2004-05 season. “The family we have at school is great and it’s awesome so see how kids and sports support each other.

“On the medical side I love the fact I never know what is going to happen each day. Our day can range from a nice quiet day with not much going on to having to use an AED and CPR to save someone’s life. You just never know what will happen at any point of your day. It certainly keeps us on our toes.

McDonagh has been the full-time athletic trainer for St Joe's since 2002. He joined the science department in 2003 and currently teaches earth science, biology, and sports medicine.

“I love watching the student athlete here at St. Joe’s grow and mature,” said McDonagh, who also does outreach ATC for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. “Over those 4 years here they go from 5-foot-2, 85 pounds and graduate at 6-1, 210. It is a complete transformation.

“These kids make me laugh every single day. If I’m having kind of a down day, they uplift me every afternoon. There is no filter (what happens in sports; stays in sports).”

McDonagh can be found grading papers on the sideline or holding impromptu classes.

“There is not too much downtime. Students come in for extra help sometimes when I’m getting ready in the trainer’s room,” McDonagh said. “I have a sports med class that I teach to juniors and seniors, so if I’m giving extra help, they can come in and see what I’m doing as I’m doing it. They can write what they saw and thought for class. It’s kind of cool letting them see the real-world aspect of it.”

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t conflicts over how to get athletes back in action.

Searles, with Select Physical Therapy, said, “The joke at Trumbull is we tell all of them to ice and stretch so often that some of the athletes even had (Director of Athletics) Mike King play along and make us a sign that reads ‘Ice and Stretch’ and we have it hanging in the training room.

“We try to educate them in things other than injuries in hopes to prevent the injuries,” Searles said. “We talk about proper hydration, nutrition, body maintenance and getting into shape before the season starts. Them being aware of this stuff helps us and them in the long run.”

McDonagh pointed out that fear of losing playing time is a constant for athletes, and that trainers must stay impartial and always look out for what is best for the student.

Searles agreed: “Finding a balance between allowing an injured athlete to play without making them worse and shutting them down completely until they are well enough to play is always difficult.

“Telling an athlete, especially a senior, that their season is probably over because of a bad injury is hard,” Searles said. “You feel so bad telling them that one of the most important things in their life is over. They will never get that season back. But on the other side, you try to help them understand they are still an important part of the team. Keep them in a positive mind frame through it all is a fulfilling part of the situation/injury.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was particularly challenging. Athletes worked on their own in the summer, had prolonged conditioning sessions in their chosen sport when schools reopened, and chomped at the bit to play a game, swim in a meet, or run against a competitor.

McDonagh said, “You can’t tape ankles by Zoom or Google, it’s kind of a hands-on business. In the early spring some kids had an injury after working out at home. As teachers we did Zoom and Google meets, so through that forum athletes would pop in and tell me they had this or that injury. What do you think? I would access it virtually. I’d have them move in different directions. I’d tell them to try this for a couple of days, work on these flexibilities, do these exercises. It’s was all new for everyone.”

Trainers must take their own advice when it comes to precautions.

McDonagh had a plan when returning home from practices or games.

“I clearly want to give my wife and kids hugs and kisses, but I get me shoes off, scrub down, throw the clothes in the basement and let them sit there a couple of days before I go down and touch them,” he said.

Searles had help in the decision-making process.

“My wife is a nurse practitioner so we both understand we need to keep germs at work,” he said. “We change clothes when we get home, keep things like jackets, shoes and bags either in the garage or near the outside door. We wash hands all the time. And I shower down if I feel it was a heavy patient care day.”


Searles is assisted by Jenna Rousso a 2011 Trumbull grad.

“Jenna worked with me in high school. She was the goalkeeper for the last Trumbull girls’ soccer state champion and tore her ACL after the season. She grew to have a passion for athletic training. After she graduated from college, she spent almost three years at Westhill (Stamford) as their athletic trainer. When Mike Dias left Trumbull to cover the Hartford Athletics Soccer Club, I convinced Jenna to come back to Trumbull in March of 2019.” Twitter: @blox354